Despite all the national powers housed within the conference, the ACC has been anything but conventional the last two seasons.
In 2013, Miami came from nowhere to sweep the regular season and tournament championships. Led by eventual NBA first-round pick Shane Larkin, the Hurricanes thrived in a slowed-down, conservative system designed to overcome their shortcomings from a talent perspective.
Sound familiar? It should. Because that's exactly the blueprint Virginia followed this season. The Cavaliers, a once proud program during the 1980s turned doormat in recent years, captured their first ACC regular-season crown since 1981. Under the tutelage of head coach Tony Bennett, Virginia plays the ninth-slowest tempo in all of college basketball and lulls teams into making mistakes on both ends of the floor.
With a 16-2 conference record, the Cavaliers have had the ACC title clinched for well more than a week and finished two games clear of second-place Syracuse. That said, they are far from a clear-cut favorite heading into Greensboro.
Syracuse spent much of its season ranked No. 1 in the country before scuffling down the stretch. Duke has the nation's best freshman from a production standpoint in Jabari Parker, a potential lottery pick in Rodney Hood and decades upon decades of excellence in this event. North Carolina, perhaps the nation's most variant team, became the first school in history to defeat the top four teams in the Associated Press preseason Top 25.
Any of those four teams could conceivably run through the tournament without so much as a batted eye. And that goes without mentioning solid teams like Pittsburgh, Clemson and N.C. State that are desperate to help their tournament standing by playing spoiler.
With things getting underway Wednesday, let's take a look at all the information you need to know concerning the 2014 ACC Tournament.
ACC Tournament Information
When: March 12-16
Where: Greensboro Coliseum in Greensboro, N.C.
Watch: ESPN Family of Networks / ACC Network
|2014 ACC Tournament Schedule|
|Game No.||Date/Time (ET)||Team||Team||TV|
|1||March 12 at 1 p.m.||12 Wake Forest||13 Notre Dame||ESPN2/ACC Network|
|2||March 12 at 3:30 p.m.||10 Miami||15 Virginia Tech||ESPN2/ACC Network|
|3||March 12 at 7 p.m.||11 Georgia Tech||14 Boston College||ESPN2/ACC Network|
|4||March 13 at Noon||8 Maryland||9 Florida State||ESPNU/ACC Network|
|5||March 13 at 2 p.m.||5 Pittsburgh||Game 1 Winner||ESPNU/ACC Network|
|6||March 13 at 7 p.m.||7 NC State||Game 2 Winner||ESPNU/ACC Network|
|7||March 13 at 9 p.m.||6 Clemson||Game 3 Winner||ESPNU/ACC Network|
|8||March 14 at Noon||1 Virginia||Game 4 Winner||ESPN2/ACC Network|
|9||March 14 at 2 p.m.||4 North Carolina||Game 5 Winner||ESPN2/ACC Network|
|10||March 14 at 7 p.m.||2 Syracuse||Game 6 Winner||ESPN2/ACC Network|
|11||March 14 at 9 p.m.||3 Duke||Game 7 Winner||ESPN2/ACC Network|
|12||March 15 at 1 p.m.||Game 8 Winner||Game 9 Winner||ESPN/ACC Network|
|13||March 15 at 3 p.m.||Game 10 Winner||Game 11 Winner||ESPN/ACC Network|
|14||March 16 at 7 p.m.||Game 12 Winner||Game 13 Winner||ESPN/ACC Network|
Pack Pride captured a graphic of how the bracket shook out:
Don't Think Jabari's Recent Surge is Ending Anytime Soon
If Jabari Parker was playing in his final game at Cameron Indoor Stadium on Saturday (and he definitely was), the freshman forward saved his best for last. Parker hit the 30-point mark for the first time in his collegiate career, shooting 10-of-17 from the field and adding 11 rebounds in the Blue Devils' 93-81 win over rival North Carolina.
It was Parker's sixth straight double-double, as he's more than recovered from hitting the proverbial freshman wall early in the ACC schedule. The consensus No. 2 prospect in the Class of 2013 is shooting 56 percent and averaging 20.6 points and 11.1 per game since Duke's loss to Syracuse on Feb. 1.
While the consistency in his long-range shot is still absent after a red-hot start, Parker readjusted his game midseason. He's attacking the rim with ferocity, catching the ball in the high post to show off his face-up game and playing into contact rather than shying away.
The veteran mindset for Parker is no accident. The more comfortable he got with the ACC competition—and the more he got in shape—the more his maturity began shining through. After helping his teammates atone for their loss to the Tar Heels earlier this month, Parker told reporters he no longer has interest in being just a freshman.
"No more freshman," Parker said. "I don't like getting in that category anymore because my team needs me more than just an 18-year-old. They need somebody with experience through the whole game...It's time to grow up."
The underlying numbers are also starting to solidify Parker's reputation as the most diverse offensive freshman young dude who might enter the NBA draft. According to Synergy Sports (subscription required), Parker doesn't use more than 18.3 percent of his possessions in any one pet area. He ranks above average in every one of Synergy's major offensive categories save one—spot-up shooting.
Generally considered the least efficient shot type in basketball, Parker has become a beast in the post. He's shooting 56.2 percent heading into the conference tournament and averaging 1.055 points per possession, good for the 87th percentile nationally. Duke ranks only behind Creighton in offensive efficiency, per KenPom.com, and Parker is the overarching reason why.
Don't expect anything to change. Parker doesn't want to be called a freshman anymore, and perhaps he shouldn't. The kid is playing like a full-fledged star.
One of the Three Bubble Teams Plays Itself Into the Big Dance
As it stands, the ACC currently has five teams that can rest pretty easily: Duke, Syracuse, North Carolina, Virginia and Pittsburgh. The Panthers, who have lost four of their last seven games, could theoretically get bumped out, but it's a long shot. Their strong start to the season should be enough to at least put them in one of the first four games regardless of what happens in the conference tournament.
The other four could shoot at their own basket for 40 minutes in Greensboro and still get in.
As for a sixth team sneaking in, the ACC is going to need some help. Clemson, North Carolina State and Florida State all feel they could make some noise if the committee gave them an opportunity. And, in varying degrees, they're probably right.
The Tigers are 19-11 and have a 10-8 record in the ACC. Rewind the clock 20 years, and they're probably a no-brainer. But with all the value improvements we have at our disposal about what a win really means, Clemson has a ton of work to do.
Brad Brownell's squad played a patsy-filled non-conference schedule, ranking 338th out of Division I's 351 teams, per KenPom.com. That's not good. The Tigers didn't do all that much to engender confidence within the conference, either, with their only notable win coming at home against Duke. They've seemingly locked themselves into the classic strata of a team that takes care of business against bad teams but can't hang with elite competition.
Even with the best conference record among this triad, Clemson has the worst shot of making an impressive run.
We could probably write off N.C. State as well if it weren't for the individual brilliance of T.J. Warren. The ACC's leading scorer has been unbelievable down the stretch, scoring a combined 83 points in the last two games of the regular season and more than 30 in four of his past five. Warren's 36 points helped push North Carolina to the brink in overtime, a loss that could have done wonders had it gone the other way.
The Wolfpack should have no issue getting to a potential matchup against Syracuse in the quarterfinals. In their only meeting against the Orange, Warren had "only" 23 points while N.C. State lost by just one point. Jim Boeheim's zone does a nice job of mitigating individual players, but with Greensboro far closer to Raleigh than central New York, an upset isn't out of the question.
Nevertheless, Florida State remains the most likely of these teams to sneak in. The Seminoles are just on the edge of the Big Dance at the moment as one of the "next four out," according to ESPN's Joe Lunardi. They have a first-round matchup against Maryland that won't be easy, but assuming they get past the Terrapins, Virginia is arguably the "big four" member most prone for an upset.
Florida State lost both matchups during the regular season by 12 points, so it's far from a guarantee. But beating a good team three times in the same campaign is no easy task, and the Seminoles are better than their record indicates.
Duke Wins the ACC Tournament
OK. Fine. If I'm betting, I'd actually hedge and take Syracuse as well. Or just not bet at all considering the relatively low odds.
The point being, Duke and Syracuse are the two best teams in this conference, and their inevitable semifinal matchup might as well be the final. The numbers say Virginia is being vastly undervalued. And, because numbers are inherently objective, I'm inclined to agree. To assume the Cavaliers aren't ready for the spotlight simply because they haven't been in it before is unfair, the same as it was last season for Miami.
In the same light, it's also fair to note the unbalanced schedule discrepancy that helped Virginia during its 16-2 run and might play a factor in Greensboro. The Cavaliers' only relatively difficult road games were against Duke and Pittsburgh—and I'm stretching the bounds on the latter. They played the Blue Devils within four points, and their home win against Jim Boeheim and Co. was as close to perfect basketball as you'll see all season.
Make no mistake, though: Virginia faces potential back-to-back road games this week. UNC and Duke fans arrive in droves to Greensboro every season, and the odds of the Cavaliers pulling off wins against both seem long.
And, ultimately, travel distance plays a relatively large factor in picking Duke. The Blue Devils and Orange were separated by a combined eight points in their two regular-season matchups, both of which went to the home team. The Syracuse fanbase is among the best in the nation. There will probably be more orange shirts in the crowd than anyone expects, as the alumni base and student body will want to experience its first ACC tournament first-hand.
They'll still pale in comparison from the folks who can hop in a car for an hour and be at the Coliseum. When it comes to separating two elite teams, little factors (OK, huge factors) like that can make all the difference.
Follow Tyler Conway on Twitter: